We arrived in Japan 10 days ago and I must say, Japan is meeting and exceeding every single one of our very high expectations. We settled right into our 4-week home in Osaka five days ago. I’ll catch up with posts about our experiences with Tokyo and Hiroshima and to wrap up our month in Chiang Mai, but for now I want to reflect on how much we like our new temporary life in Osaka.
Settling into Osaka means getting to know the supermarkets and finding all sorts of wonderful new things to buy, from packaged foods to ramen noodle bowls to cheap sushi to the wide variety of little bottles of sake. Grocery store prices are similar to what we find in the US, so more expensive than most of the places we settle, but we’ve upped our weekly budget accordingly. Since arriving a week and a half ago, we’ve loved trying all the wonderful and strange Japanese foods, especially (my favorite) snacks and (Chad’s favorite) sweets.
Since arriving in Osaka, we’ve cooked in nearly every night (with one night of grocery store sushi) following a whole week of eating out in Tokyo and Hiroshima. Our Airbnb apartment is sort of a hybrid between a studio and a one-bedroom with sliding doors that can close off the sleeping area, but is MUCH smaller than our studio in Chiang Mai. However, the kitchen is very functional and has everything we need (including a rice maker!), so we’ve had no trouble cooking. Tonight Chad is sauteing a fresh fish we found at the supermarket that had been smeared with some sort of flavor, served with potatoes and super-long beans. Almost western food, but with a Japanese twist. We purchased a couple of tv trays our first day because Chad needs the apartment’s only table as his desk, which allows us to eat out on our little balcony.
This brings me to the another thing we’re loving about Japan. It is May and we’ve had nothing but perfect spring weather, highs in the mid-70s and absolutely lovely, just like home tends to be at this time of year. We arrived too late to see cherry blossoms (some day we’ll get here in March) but our prior sightseeing and current daily walks are so nice. May is a fabulous time to visit Japan.
We chose our neighborhood in Osaka sort of at random because there were very few Airbnb apartments that we could afford for our four week-stay. But we lucked into being in a perfect spot close to the Namba station (two of the big ones for metro and Japan rail) and the Dōtonbori river, which has the Tombori Riverwalk as a big tourist draw so offers lots to see and great lights at night. We also have a close metro entrance right around the corner from our apartment, so that is very convenient. However, transit is very expensive here, so we don’t expect to be using the metro daily like we have in other places. But we can get around very easily throughout Osaka and also to Kyoto and Kobe.
Back to Work
One of the unexpectedly great things about Osaka for us is that it is home to a researcher who is relevant to Chad’s new documentary. So we’re going to be able to get our first on-camera interview for the movie while we’re here. We’re both getting very much dug into work mode. One challenge for me in Japan is that we’re now a 14-hour time difference from home. I’ve had a lot of client calls this week and last, so lots of mornings getting up at 3 a.m. or going to bed after midnight for early and late calls (and sometimes both!). Naps are key. I think it would be a challenge to maintain my business from Asia for very long and I’m looking forward to a lighter week next week. We just hit the halfway point for our Asia leg and I’m in no rush to get home yet, despite the work challenges.
Speaking of work, money has been very much on our minds in Japan. As noted with food and transit (and also our Airbnb apartment, which is 2.5 times the price of our Chiang Mai apartment), it is quite a bit more expensive here than other places we’ve traveled, especially Tokyo. Happily the exchange rate between the yen and the dollar is very easy for us to track prices (essentially 100:1) and we’ve figured out a few tricks for saving money. The first, I think, is being here in Osaka. We’ve been told that though it is Japan’s second largest city, it is known for being quite “cheap” compared to Tokyo and that the residents here appreciate a good deal. So do we, so I feel we picked the right place! We’ve also figured out how to get cheap sushi from the grocery store, nice picnics from 7-Eleven and just today discovered Japan’s fabulous 100-yen store called Can Do (the equivalent of a dollar-store in the US but with way nicer stuff). Being in Japan is definitely worth the extra cost and while eating out will be WAY more expensive than in Chiang Mai, we’ve got our eye on some affordable places, especially for ramen.
Super-Nice People and Very Clean
Lastly, Japan is simply very pleasant. Almost anywhere in the world you’d visit, I think, you hear about how nice the people are (at least that’s been our experience). I think it is safe to say that people are nice pretty much everywhere. But, they just may be nicest in Japan. Over and over again we’ve experienced Japanese people go above and beyond and out of their way to be helpful and kind to us. One example from Tokyo: we were having trouble locating the entrance to a Metro station and made a wrong turn into a small park. Chad asked a group of young men (all in black sweats, sitting on some steps, drinking bubble tea, and smoking) for directions with his phone. They said a few words to each other and then all four got up and walked us to the Metro entrance about 300 meters away. I suspect they might have walked us all the way to our train if we’d have let them (once we saw the entrance we started thanking them and saying goodbye). Speaking of goodbyes, we’ve witness multiple exchanges where people continue saying goodbye to each other for minutes on end. This is clearly a culture that values politeness and courtesy, and since I value those things too, I really like it.
Japan is also very clean with plenty of trees and greenspace. There is an eco-friendliness that is clear in the cities, with plenty of nice park space and lots of people on bikes. We can see an emphasis on minimizing waste. The one exception is that there seems to be a love of plastic wrapping here. Lots of foods have multiple layers of plastic to them. I think this relates to an emphasis on cleanliness and hygiene (which I also like), but we cringe a little sometimes at all the crinkling plastic we’re throwing away (and all the one-time-use chopsticks!).
We are already completely in love with Japan and planning out our next visit here. It has exceeded our sky-high expectations and we feel very at home and happy here in Osaka. One future visit is sure to be for the Expo 2025, which will be held here in Osaka. We visited the site of Expo 70 this week (we love world’s fairs) and can tell that in six years, the Kansai region (Osaka-Kyoto-Kobe) will definitely do it up right. But six years is too far away, so I’m certain we’ll be back again in the meantime. Japan is too awesome not to return to again and again.